England Travel

Penshurst Place – An English Fortified Manor Home

A view of Penshurst Place from the gardens. The Baron’s Court (Great Hall) is on the right.

A beautiful example of a medieval (and then Tudor) fortified manor house is Penshurst Place, located in the picturesque village of Penshurst, about 85 miles south of London’s Heathrow airport.

Location of Penshurst Place, in southern England. (forgive misspelling of “Penshurst” on map)

I visited this estate as part of a day trip from London that took me to Pevensey, Herstmonceux Castle, Battle (Hastings) and finally Penshurst.


A view of Herstmonceux Castle (dates from 1441), part of the Queen’s University, Ontario Canada.

Penshurst Place and Gardens

This historic mansion is not on the typical tourist “radar” but for a taste of life in aristocratic England in the 14thcentury, take the time to visit this beautiful castle-home.

Interior view of Penshurst Place–note the detailed wood work on the walls and ceiling.

A bedroom in Penshurst Place–note the wood work on the walls and beautiful bed.

I was very impressed how beautiful this estate is—the stone work, interior decorations and landscaping—even in February I could tell how much care went into the well-manicured landscape. Some people come to tour only the gardens.

Another view of Penshurst Place.

The outstanding feature of Penshurst Place is the Baron’s Court (also known as the Great Hall) with its original chestnut wood beams from 1341.This room (and the entire estate) is now used on occasion for weddings, conferences and other events (pictures aren’t really allowed in the Baron’s Court, but I got a quick one of the ceiling!).

A snapshot of the 14th century ceiling of the Baron’s Hall.

Sir John de Pulteney built the Manor house on 4,000 acres he purchased in 1338. In 1382 the defensive features were added—making it almost a castle—including eight large towers and crenellated walls. King Henry VIII owned this home for a period of time, and today a descendant of the Sidney family, who received the home as a gift from Henry, is the custodian.

A view of the village of Penshurst.

Old timbered houses in the village of Penshurst.

Penshurst Place is part of the English Heritage system, meaning purchasing an English Heritage membership allows entry to this site and many others for one fee. The single entry fee as of February 2012 was £9.80 for the house and gardens. Visit penhurstplace.com for more information.

Pevensey Castle-The Beginning of the End for Saxon England

Entrance to Pevensey Castle.

Pevensey Castle is near the English Channel on the south coast of England, about 12 miles from Hastings and about 90 miles from London’s Heathrow airport. Pevensey was the landing spot for Duke William of Normandy, on 28 September 1066. William earned the title ‘William the Conqueror’ in the famous Battle of Hastings just 17 days later. The Saxon king, Harold, was in northern England at the time of the landing, and raced with his army south to meet William. His army fought valiantly and at one point appeared to have carried the day, but in the end Harold was killed and the course of English history changed forever. The famous battle took place near Battle Abbey (see my post on Battle for more information), which is actually north of Hastings and about 11 miles from Pevensey.

A view of the exterior and moat of Pevensey Castle.

Interior grounds of Pevensey Castle.

Roman Walls (1,700 years old) still guard the entrance to Pevensey Castle.

Pevensey has been a strategic location since Roman times, when a fort called Anderita was built here in 290 AD—parts of the original Roman walls remain. It was a defensive post against early Saxon raids. The castle was built inside the original Roman walls in the 12thcentury. Pevensey was also further fortified in 1588 in case of invasion by the Spanish Armada. In 1940 ‘pill boxes’ (gun emplacements) were added to the castle to defend against a possible German invasion. These are still visible.

Pill box is visible in top center of picture–narrow slit for WWII guns. Medieval projectiles stacked below.

While Pevensey Castle is very ruined, it is interesting to visit the site since it has such strong historical connections. It is part of the English Heritage system, and individual tickets are £4.90. It is a favorite area for walkers from Pevensey village.

St. Nicolas Church in the village of Pevensey. 13th century.

Pevensey Castle is close to several other interesting sights in this part of southern England, including Battle, Herstmonceux Castle and Penhurst Place Manor House. I visited all these sights in a day trip after arriving at Heathrow airport from the U.S. early on a Sunday morning.

References: Signs posted on castle grounds.

Locations of sights near Pevensey Castle, England.

Battle, England—Where the Course of History Changed Forever

About 60 miles southwest of London is the town of Battle, the site of the famous “Battle of Hastings” that changed the course of history for England (and the western world). The battle takes its name from the coastal town of Hastings which is less than 10 miles away. It was here that William the Conqueror from Normandy (France) defeated Saxon King Harold on October 14, 1066. This monumental event began the long and bloody intertwined royal history between England and France. The battle raged all day, and King Harold’s army fought valiantly (after no rest from a long journey from the north of the country), but by the end of the day King Harold was dead and his army vanquished.

The battlefield of 1066 - The English were in the same location as where the picture was taken and the French were in the distance on the opposite hillside.

There was no town here in William’s day.  The famous Benedictine Abbey of Battle was built (begun in 1070) on the spot where Harold fell, as a penance by the Normans for the great loss of life that took place here and throughout William’s conquest of England.

One of the quaint buildings in the town of Battle

Town of Battle

The abbots of Battle were powerful, and the abbey played a role against invasions from France and other countries over the centuries, until it was surrendered by the monks during the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” under King Henry VIII in 1538.

The Great Gatehouse, built in 1338, provided security for the Abbey

Abbey dormitory building (13th century)--its lower intact rooms are interesting

Although the original abbey church no longer stands (the foundation and outline can still be seen), other monastery buildings remain, as well as the spot marking King Harold’s death and the original battlefield, which thankfully has been preserved for almost 1,000 years.

The spot where King Harold died; it reads: "The traditional site of the high altar of Battle Abbey founded to commemorate the victory of Duke William on 14 October, 1066. The high altar was placed to mark the spot where King Harold died."

The Novices Room - where new monks would learn the Rule of St. Benedict. This room sits underneath the main floor of the dormitory.

The Common Room or Warming House, where the monks would work or participate in some recreation in the winter.

The easiest way to get to Battle is by car. Southwest England has many great historical sites and towns, and Battle is one of them. Battle Abbey (and Battlefield) is under the administration of English Heritage.  In February 2012, the entrance fee was £7.30/person.  Included with the entrance fee is an audio guide tour and several trail routes of varying length that describe the historic battle and abbey.

Battle is about 60 miles southwest of London

Southwestern England Part 5: Pendennis and Dartmouth Castles

Homes along the River Dart, Dartmouth England

On the southern coast of England, there are two sights close to the historical town of Plymouth that are worth visiting for their natural scenery and the historical interest, Pendennis Castle (west of Plymouth in Cornwall) and Dartmouth Castle (east of Plymouth in Devon).

Pendennis Castle

Pendennis Castle, located near the town of Falmouth, sits at the entrance to Falmouth Harbor (the Fal River Estuary), a strategic location and a great natural harbor. It is a large fort, with circular walls which made it harder to hit and damage during an attack by cannon.  During the time of King Henry the 8th(mid 1500’s) there were constant worries about the southern coast of England being invaded by France and Spain, since England was now Protestant and France and Spain were still loyal to the Pope.  Henry built a number of fortifications along the coast. While they are called castles, they really were forts rather than residences, built to defend likely invasion landing sites.

Pendennis Castle

View of the town of Falmouth from Pendennis Castle

The view of Falmouth Harbor from Pendennis Castle

The setting at the point where the castle is located is lovely, and we had great weather during our visit, making us just want to lie on the green grass, soak up the sun and enjoy the views of the boats passing by. It also saw action in WW I and WWII.  There is a guardhouse at the entrance to the castle grounds with some interesting exhibits.  Across the estuary is St. Mawes Castle, a sister castle to Pendennis, and is more original, since it was not altered or used in later years.  There is a ferry service between Falmouth and St. Mawes, saving a long drive around the estuary. Unfortunately our schedule did not allow us time to go to St. Mawes. Both Pendennis and St. Mawes are part of the English Heritage System, and your fee is covered with a membership card, a worthwhile purchase if you are visiting several English Heritage sites.

Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth Castle is located in Dartmouth, at the mouth of the River Dart, in Devon. This is one of my favorite locations in Devon.  The setting of the castle along the steep banks of the narrow river entrance, with the beautiful homes of Dartmouth just in the distance is serene. Dartmouth Castle was built in the 15thcentury by Edward IV, and was used in later times as a southern coast defensive position.  There were great chains which were strung across the river entrance to stop enemy ships, which were raised and lowered with windlasses in the castle. This castle is not part of English Heritage, and requires a separate entrance fee. The town of Dartmouth is also charming, with half-timbered homes and a quaint inner harbor area.

My favorite image of the River Dart and Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth Castle on the right, and the fortification across the Dart River used to hoist a chain across the river entrance

Dartmouth Castle along the River Dart

The tide is out in the inner harbor of Dartmouth

Locations of Pendennis and Dartmouth Castles from Plymouth, England. The most practical way to visit these locations is by car.

Southwestern England Part 4 – Tintagel Castle

The Cornwall coast at Tintagel

Located on the western coast of Cornwall, the town of Tintagel and the castle ruins are way off the main highway and yet this is one of the most visited spots in Britain. The setting is magnificent and enchanting—right on the coast, with a waterfall, sea cave, and ancient ruins—is a magical place for the legend of King Arthur, the Knights of the Roundtable, Guinevere and Merlin the magician.  The castle ruins date from the 13th century; although there are ruins from an earlier castle, constructed by Reginald, son of King Henry I in 1145. The main castle was built in 1233, by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall and Knight of the Holy Roman Empire. The connection of King Arthur to Tintagel is based on the writings of 12thcentury Welsh writer Geoffrey of Monmouth. Cornwall and Tintagel also figure into the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde, a Romeo and Juliet-type story intertwined with the time of King Arthur, and about the warring kings of Ireland and England.

The beach and waterfall at Tintagel

Looking east from Tintagel Island ruins (near center) to the mainland castle ruins (far center). Town of Tintagel in distance (upper left).

It’s about a 10-15 minute walk down to the castle setting and shoreline from the town. There is a boardwalk along the cliffs to the castle ruins on both the mainland and island (essentially part of the shoreline). The island is accessible via steep stairs cut into the rock. Unfortunately the castle is very ruined, with just a few walls remaining. On the bluff above the castle, there are some additional ruins and good coastline views. Directly across from the island outcrop, on the mainland are a few other castle ruins, also reached by a set of steep stairs. The castle buildings on both sides used to be connected by a narrow rock way which eroded centuries ago. Directly below the castle on the island is “Merlin’s Cave” accessible at low tide.

Merlin's Cave

Tintagel Castle entrance

Other castle ruins

Tintagel is one of the many sites in England that is part of the English Heritage governing board of historical properties. A ticket to the site costs £5.50.  A yearly pass to all 400 sites that are part of English Heritage costs £46 per person, a good deal if you are visiting several historic sites.  Check out the English Heritage website.

Location of Tintagel at the southwest tip of England

If you have an interest in King Arthur, castles or very enchanting locations, go to Tintagel.

Reference:  The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain by Charles Phillips, Metro Books, New York, New York, 2009